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Advertising Sales Mismanagement, Part I

Posted on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 at 11:04 AM

The reason your ad sales aren't booming could be right under your nose.

By William Dunkerley

Your ad sales are still less than satisfactory. Blaming the economy has become a cliché. Nonetheless, revenues are falling short. What can you do to remedy the interminably sagging sales?

I suggest you reevaluate your ad sales management for ways to increase performance and bring in more sales. Identifying and fixing sales management problems can be one of the quickest and most direct ways to boost ad sales.

How bad can one's sales management really be? I've seen instances where there is no comprehensive sales management. The salespeople just run their own show. In good times this vacuous approach to sales management may produce acceptable, but not optimal, results. But in tough times, an absence of active sales management can spell out disaster.

In some cases, publishers fill the sales management role themselves and adopt a laissez-faire style. Others manage autocratically. They hold salespeople strictly accountable to quotas and rebuke underperformance. This can result in a lot of frustration all around without much sales improvement. That's no improvement over the absence of a plan.

Finally, there is the scenario in which a top sales person is rewarded with a promotion to management. This often involves a person being miscast into a role for which she lacks the appropriate skill set. It also wastes good sales talent by diverting a star performer from what he does best: selling.

Of course, all sales managers are not duds. There are a lot of talented managers who are producing good results. But even in these situations, a careful review of your sales management structure and practices can produce a beneficial result.

Let's take a look at the vital components of sales management. Use this review to analyze the strengths and weaknesses at your publication.

Components of Good Sales Management

Coaching. This is one of the most important roles for a sales manager. Salespeople will perform best if they receive active coaching in several areas.

The first is dealing with rejection. Any salesperson, even one doing a good job, will experience far more rejections than successes. This is particularly true with cold calls. Over time, this can have a negative impact on performance. Often when a prospect rejects a sales overture, the salesperson is told why his publication doesn't make the cut for that prospect. Maybe it's that the audience is too small or the rates are too high. Neither of these criticisms may be objectively true, but when heard frequently enough, they may lead a frustrated salesperson to start believing them. That's called "buying in to the resistance." Active coaching can counteract that and keep the salesperson's spirits up

Another role of coaching: encouragjng salespeople to make a sufficient number of cold calls regularly. It is far easier -- and usually more pleasant -- to call on existing clientele. A lot of salespeople detest and avoid cold calls. However, if the sales manager/coach maintains an active dialogue with the salesperson about the cold calls, two important things will happen: First, the calls will be more interesting for the salesperson. If the coach shows interest, the salesperson will respond positively. Second, the coaching will result in an ongoing element of accountability for making a sufficient number of cold calls.

This issue of cold calls is an important one. Every publication sooner or later will experience an attrition of existing advertisers. A regular influx of new advertisers is the best defense. If you wait until you actually see revenues fall because of that attrition, there will be an inevitable gap in sales before new advertisers can be rounded up.

Helping to solve problems in closing on particular advertisers is another productive role for coaching. Often a salesperson will encounter a prospect who just doesn't respond to the usual sales approaches. A coach can look at a situation like this with a fresh set of eyes. A coach may be able to discern a way of appealing to the resistant prospect that was overlooked by the sales person. The coach can also help in developing new sales strategies for hard-to-sell prospects.

Competitive Analysis. Another important sales manager task is keeping an eye on the competitors. This is important for both short- and long-term purposes.

In the short term, you should scrutinize the advertising in every issue of every competitor. My preference is to do this in a meeting with the salespeople. Jointly go through the latest issues of the competing publications. When you find an ad that you don't have, ask the salespeople why. Then analyze why the advertiser may have chosen the other publication. And, finally, brainstorm strategies for bringing the advertiser over to your publication. Do the same thing for advertisers that are running larger ads or greater frequency with the competitors. Be sure to follow up on outcomes on a case-by-case basis.

In Part II, we'll continue to review additional components of good advertising sales management. We'll cover customer service, forecasting and budgeting, compensation administration, research, and additional topics.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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